In the 130th playing of The Game, not a whole lot went right for the Yale football team. With a 28–0 deficit at halftime and a 34–7 final score, the Bulldogs were unable to stop the Crimson attack while failing to put points on the board themselves. But how did the Elis get so off track? Here are three major areas in which the Elis struggled against the Co-Ivy League champions.
Inability to operate the no-huddle to perfection
During the offseason, head coach Tony Reno installed a high-flying no-huddle offense. This attack is predicated upon a quick tempo, designed to wear defenses down by running plays very quickly. Reno even proclaimed before the season that he wanted the team to run over 90 plays every game.
But against Harvard, the Bulldogs were unable to maintain possession and get the no-huddle in rhythm, running a season low of 63 plays. A week after rushing for a season-low 96 yards in a blowout loss to Princeton, Yale managed just 100 yards on the ground against the stout Harvard rushing defense.
“We didn’t consistently operate our no-huddle offense as fast as we had wanted,” said wide receiver Deon Randall ’15.
In an attempt to spark the offense, the Bulldogs practiced the Wildcat formation in the week leading up to The Game and debuted it on Saturday, with Randall taking snaps under center. It was used sparingly against Harvard, however, perhaps due to the deficit Yale found itself facing nearly from the opening kickoff.
Running back Tyler Varga ’15 was absent for most of the game, hurting the Elis’ potent ground game, which had been averaging –202.8 yards per game before the matchup against Harvard. After missing the Elis’ previous four contests following a foot injury sustained against Fordham, Varga managed to start against Harvard. But he only played on the Bulldogs’ first two drives, notching five carries for 20 yards.
Letting the Harvard offense stay on the field
All defensive coordinators preach the importance of forcing third downs. Not only do they give the defense a chance to get the team’s offense back on the field, but they also prevent the other team from gaining any momentum.
Unfortunately for Yale, the Crimson was barely ever forced into those situations, instead excelling at moving the chains in the decisive first half. Harvard faced just two third downs on its first three scoring drives, all touchdowns.
“We dug ourselves into a hole early on,” captain and defensive end Beau Palin ’14 said in an email. “You can’t do that when playing a talented team.”
Though the defense was vastly improved in the second half, forcing Harvard to go 0–8 on third downs and limiting the Crimson to just six points, the four touchdowns yielded in the first half were too much to overcome.
Allowing the Harvard running game to dominate
Coming into the contest, Yale’s defense planned to shut down Harvard’s running game, according to Palin. Crimson running back Paul Stanton, Jr., who finished third in the Ivy League with 936 rushing yards, was a clear focal point of Harvard’s offense. It was imperative for the Bulldogs’ chances to shut him down.
But not only did Stanton run wild on the Bulldogs to the tune of 118 yards, he lit up the scoreboard as well. Stanton found the end zone four times, twice on runs and twice through the air, to tie a Harvard record against Yale set in 1915. All four scores came on consecutive drives in the first half.
Quarterback Conner Hempel also took advantage of the Yale run defense’s woes. Hempel ran for 57 yards on 10 carries, and Harvard finished with 216 rushing yards on the day. Of the Crimson’s 22 first downs, 14 came via running plays.
“Harvard was effectively able to run the ball and they established that they could run power on us,” Palin said. “[That] put them in the driver’s seat.”
The effective Cantab running game resulted in Hempel’s aerial assault working to perfection. He was a precise 19–26 for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and his ability to find both Stanton and tight end Cameron Brate was crucial to keeping drives moving.
Despite the loss, Yale remains the overall series leader, 65–57–8.